When we think of textiles in our worship spaces we probably first think of pastor’s stoles, vestments, paraments for the Communion Table or worship banners. However, you can’t neglect that we often garnish our sanctuaries underfoot also. For example, Native Americans had special animal skins on which they prayed. Another illustration is the Muslim tradition of using prayer carpets to create an isolated space to concentrate in prayer. Additionally medieval Christians in the colder climates of northern Europe began dressing the floors of cold stone churches with vegetable fiber mats as well as fabric rugs. Instead of monotonous, wall-to-wall carpeting, a well-chosen, strategically placed carpet can add color, texture, and liturgical symbols to the room as it honors and defines a place for devotion in a holy place.
I have been thinking about these types of textiles while savoring the novel The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. The story takes place in 17th-century Persia where a 14-year-old woman believes she will be married within the year. But when her beloved father dies, she and her mother find themselves alone and without a dowry. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to sell the brilliant turquoise rug the young woman has woven to pay for their journey to Isfahan, where they will work as servants for her uncle, a rich rug designer in the court of the legendary Shah Abbas the Great. She learns the carpet trade, blossoming as a clever designer and talented knotter. This captivating tale is interwoven with traditional Iranian folktales, as well as fascinating details of the art of the Persian rug.
Amirrezvani’s piece of literature, based on historical fact, is rich in detail of symbols and colors important to the religion of her characters. Time and time again in history we see examples of how the visual components of our faith are important. Another example is the photo in this blog that shows details of a rather unusual "Daghestan" prayer rug. It’s interesting to note that the cross shapes (as familiar to Christians) abound in this piece - even in the border. I am not an expert but one researcher of this rug wonders if it had been woven by Armenian Christians. It is not difficult to imagine the entire piece as a work of Christian faith.
The visual in the church today continues to be important. Based upon their dependence upon the internet, game systems, and the TV our youth are being raised to respond to the visual. We should take a lesson from history and from what the young today are thriving upon and not ignore the space underfoot...even in worship!